Sailors from the Royal and Italian Navies stood side-by-side as they honoured men killed in the battles to keep the nation’s maritime lifelines open in both World Wars. The ceremony at the Tower Hill Memorial in London was part of a five-day visit to the capital by the magnificent Italian naval cadet training ship ITS Amerigo Vespucci.
The ceremony was one of numerous Anglo-Italian events to mark the visit of the Italian Navy’s magnificent sail training ship ITS Amerigo Vespucci, which spent five days in the capital’s docklands as part of her summer tour of north-west Europe.
Berthed in West India Docks – her draft precluded her sailing any further up the Thames – the 80-year-old sailing ship is on a training cruise giving 98 cadets a taste of life as a naval officer.
Amid duties such as leadership and the fundamentals of seafaring, there is the honour of representing your country on foreign soil and working with your allies.
So Capt Curzio Pacifici and some of his ship’s company headed to Trinity Gardens in Tower Hill to lay a wreath in company with Royal Navy personnel to the men of the Merchant Marine.
Here are honoured 36,000 men who have no known grave but the sea – 12,000 dead from the first global conflagration of the 20th Century, twice that many from the second.
For three years in WW1, Italians and Britons fought side-by-side for the Allied cause. From 1940-43, however, the Royal Navy and Regia Marina as it was then fought a bitter battle – and not just for mastery of the Mediterranean.
Although the Battle of the Atlantic is typically seen as a struggle against the U-boat, in the early stages of the war around 30 Italian submarines joined in the struggle, operating out of Bordeaux. They sank more than 100 ships – over half a million tons of shipping.
Seven decades on, and Italy is one of the UK’s strongest NATO allies with the RN and Marina Militare working side-by-side not just in the Middle Sea but also frequently east of Suez in the never-ending struggle to keep sea lanes open.
Such co-operation is likely to become even more frequent in the coming years. The San Marco Regiment – Italy’s counterpart to UK’s commandos – are looking to train with the Royal Marines.
The Italians will be flying F35 Joint Strike Fighter jump jets from the deck of their carrier Cavour before the decade is out, and next year plan to send one of their Orizzonte-class destroyers – similar to our Type 45s – to take part in the Joint Warrior exercises off Scotland.
The Vespucci’s visit allowed the cadets the opportunity to see the sights of London while the ship and Capt Pacifici supported a number of Italian defence engagement events and hosted a VIP reception for the Italian Ambassador to the United Kingdom.
The sailing vessel left Livorno in Tuscany in early July and is visiting Hamburg, Antwerp, Lisbon and Malaga before returning to her home port in mid-September.
The ship takes her name from the 15th Century Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who gave his name to America.
She was launched in 1931 and other than WW2, has been continually active ever since. Her three masts and bowsprit carry 24 sails totalling 2,600 square metres (25,833 square feet, or just under half that carried by HMS Victory), supported by 30 kilometres (18½ miles) of rope.
It takes a ship’s company of 280 to sail her – 18 officers, 72 senior ratings and 190 sailors.
Press Release, August 14, 2013; Image: Royal Navy